DOWN where the river meets the sea at the mouth of the River Murray lies a station unlike any other.
A place where mustering is still done on horseback. A place untouched by urban and regional sprawl.
Mundoo Island Station is a series of islands about 100 kilometres south of Adelaide with Mundoo the largest at 1200 hectares.
The island chain is surrounded by the salt water of the Coorong to the south and fresh water of the River Murray to the north.
The islands themselves are unwooded, low-lying land with a mixture of alkaline soils, sand, swamp and mud.
While stepping onto Mundoo Island Station gives a glimpse into days gone by, its inhabitants, the Grundy family, are at the forefront of environmental and livestock industry innovation.
The Grundys have farmed on adjacent Hindmarsh Island since the 1870s and first took a half share in Mundoo Island Station in 1922.
In the course of 100 years, previous generations have encountered plenty of challenges associated with island farming, overcome numerous obstacles and made copious changes to continue surviving and thriving.
The present generations, Colin and Sally and their children Jessie and Jack, are no different.
Increasingly using drones to muster and check livestock, tailoring breeding to suit their environment, and planting hundreds of thousands of trees, shrubs and grasses are just a few of the practices ensuring Mundoo is ready for future generations to write its next chapter.
Mundoo Island was first established as a pastoral property in 1843.
Colonial pastoralists, for a long time, had no legal claim on the land, but had 'runs' on which they de-pastured their sheep and cattle.
Being surrounded entirely by a marine environment, there were many challenges to be faced in running a station, but the pioneering families persisted in the harsh, salty, windy landscape that received low rainfall.
Owners of Mundoo included the McLean, Holme, Dodd and Beckwith families before Walter Grundy bought a half share in 1922 and took full ownership in July 1932.
The Grundys had bred sheep on the adjacent Hindmarsh Island since the 1870s and with the purchase of Mundoo, one of Walter's sons Norman farmed the 'Riverside' property on Hindmarsh Island, while Jack, who married Dorothy Basham and had two surviving adult children Barbara and Peter, took charge of Mundoo.
The two would collaborate often - moving between properties when shearing, mustering and cropping, while sharing the cost of equipment like harvesters and binders.
Jack's son Peter would go on to farm the station, before handing the reins to his son Colin.
Colin and Sally are the fourth generation of the Grundy family running Mundoo Island Station, and fifth on Hindmarsh Island, with their children Jessie and Jack the fifth generation to call Mundoo home.
The Grundys run a three-pronged livestock enterprise, grow crops for feed and offer tourism experiences, including station tours, photography and birdwatching tours, camping and self-contained accommodation for people interested in fishing, kayaking, birdlife and the environment.
Jessie, 20, and Jack, 18, both assist with all aspects of station life and Jack is studying agricultural science at the University of Adelaide with the aim to carry on the family tradition.
Much of the Grundys' success and longevity has come down to making the most of their environment.
Their present livestock enterprise consists of well-adapted Angus cattle, Dorper ewes mated to Australian White rams and wild Arab Australian cross stock horses.
The unique island conditions have been no issue for the cattle, which have been known to graze with their heads under water up to their eyes, while no fences mean no worries when it comes to the Dorpers.
"They don't respect fences, but they can't swim and therefore respect our island boundaries," Sally said.
"They are magnificent meat sheep and the fact they don't require shearing makes them ideal for our island."
Angus heifers and steers are generally sold to feedlot buyers at 12 to 18-months old from July to September, with top breeding heifers kept for herd replacements or to sell with calves at-foot.
The Grundys are proactive when it comes to herd improvement, carefully selecting bulls with desired estimated breeding values and placing importance on low-stress stock handling.
They have European Union and Meat Standards Australia accreditation to capitalise on their dedicated approach, which includes a week of yard weaning, typically in August, which they say gets cattle accustomed to human activity in preparation for trucking and moving into feedlots, breeds familiarity with people, stockyards and water troughs, and allows them to identify any flighty animals to be removed from the mob.
"The time and energy input required is paid back in spades with docile animals and good growth due to low stress," Sally said.
The cattle herd is rotationally grazed through paddocks for a week at a time and weaners are moved to Hindmarsh Island to graze barley or lucerne crops.
The Grundys direct drill crops - 200ha of barley/ryegrass and oat/ryegrass mixes - which are used for feed, rather than solely relying on pastures.
Abundant summer feed on the freshwater side of the islands allows the Grundys to carry pregnant cows through summer and calve down on Strawberry clover, Paspalum and native pastures.
"We remove our stock from the wetlands during winter and relocate them to the high-ground," Sally said.
"The wetland pastures are summer growing and dependent on warm weather, while the high ground pastures are winter growing and dependent on rainfall."
While there are some advantages in running livestock across a chain of islands, there are also plenty of challenges.
The Grundys are unable to quickly navigate between islands with vehicles or motorbikes so mustering is done on horseback or with drones.
Son Jack has completed his Remote Pilot Multirotor 25 kilogram licence and is the station's chief drone pilot.
"Drones provide a safer and drier option (for mustering)," Sally said.
"Falling off your horse between islands is not pleasant, especially if it's at the beginning of the muster!
"We also use drones to check stock on a regular basis, which negates the need to saddle a horse and spend a day getting to the islands, inspect stock and return."
Like all farmers, the Grundys are also subject to the whims of nature and this was illustrated during the Millennium Drought years of 2007 to 2010 when costs to survive nearly sent them broke.
The salinity levels of the River Murray are critical to the health of their livestock and a lack of freshwater during those years presented major obstacles.
The Grundys said they first became aware of the "catastrophic situation" unfolding in March 2007 when weaners in their stockyards walked to the water troughs, sniffed and walked away.
All barrages, designed to prevent salt water from entering the lower lakes, were leaking.
Efforts to plug the leaks were futile as salt water spread far and wide, impacting numerous properties.
A lack of environmental flows during the drought years resulted in huge fish deaths as the waterways around the islands became increasingly salty and soils became highly acidic.
Cattle relied on freshwater soaks the Grundys dug in the dried up lake bed of the River Murray to survive.
But like the generations before them that had to deal with workmen leaving to go to war, liver fluke issues due to the construction of the barrages, and death duties, the Grundys persisted and found a way.
"The drought forced us to pipe water from the mainland and install troughs into all our paddocks," Colin said.
"We had to fence off all water courses because they turned to salt water. That made a lot more paddocks and this is now an advantage for cell grazing and regenerative farming practices.
"At the time this expenditure on infrastructure to survive the drought nearly sent us broke."
Life on Mundoo Island Station throughout the 1900s was an ever changing landscape.
In the late 1990s, reflecting on a life spent on the station for the book Mundoo Island Memories authored by Sally, Colin's father Peter said Mundoo was very much a mixed farm in his early days.
The family had chooks, geese, turkeys, pigs, ostriches and milking cows and their calves, but sheep, lambs and wool provided the main income.
Before new barrages were built in the 1930s, the Grundys could only keep sheep, because the cattle would not drink the brackish water from freshwater soaks dotted across the islands.
Merinos, Lincolns, Suffolks, Corriedales and Romneys were some of the breeds run across the years.
Peter said life was made easier by the building of the new Mundoo Barrage.
It helped provide freshwater for cattle and enabled the family to cart wool, stock and grain to and from the island by truck.
Prior to that, sheep were walked over the old worn test barrages or, when impassable, walked across a limestone reef or swum across the river.
Paddle steamers and barges had also been relied on by many pastoral properties on and around Lakes Alexandrina and Albert to deliver groceries, produce, building materials and farming equipment, but also to collect wool, skins and other cargo to be sold.
One such barge named 'Albert', built in 1882, was used for many years by Jack Grundy to transport wool, barley and oats to Goolwa for loading onto trains, and trade lambs to and from the island.
During the building of the barrages, a school was established to cater for the children of the workers, which Peter attended from 1936 to 1938.
He would later ride a pony to attend school on Hindmarsh Island.
The first tractor was bought by the Grundys in the late 1920s, though horses were still used to cart hay until 1948.
The family were among the first to buy a hay baler, with Peter doing contracting to "earn a few extra quid".
Cropping was a time consuming task in Peter's early days, so only a small area of barley and oats were grown.
Chaff was cut to sell to horse owners and used for the Grundys' own horses and cows, while oats and chaff would be used for sheep feed in the event of a late season start.
With better machinery, fertilisers and seed technology, crops improved and quite a bit of lucerne was grown.
Another source of income was from salt, with any idle time used to scrape salt from swamps.
It was shovelled into 130 pound bags and sold to local farmers to mix with feed for dairy cows, sheep and pigs.
A number of watercraft were used throughout the years to get between islands and jobs on the station.
A hovercraft bought in 1970 had a mounted seed sprayer, but Peter was sure most of the seed was wasted and maintained the best way to plant grasses was with clods of the actual growing plant.
A skinny airboat with a VW motor was bought in 1968 and used to drive up narrow channels, while a larger airboat, powered by a motor out of a Tiger Moth airplane, was bought in 1973 and enabled them to carry panels and posts for stockyards to the islands.
The Grundys also owned a plane during the same period, which was used for stock checks.
Peter had many stories to tell about the veritable 'United Nations' of workers that graced Mundoo during his lifetime.
The Grundys employees included Aboriginal shearers from the Point McLeay mission, a Barwell Boy, English migrants, Italian prisoners of war, a German Stukker pilot and former Australian servicemen.
The Grundys are not just farmers of Mundoo Island Station, but caretakers.
The importance they place on sustainability is illustrated by the multitude of environmental and biodiversity preservation activities they're involved in.
They undertake regular voluntary surveys of wildlife, including frogs, turtles, bats, fish and tadpoles, native water rats, shorebirds, waterfowl, orange-bellied parrots and Australasian bitterns.
The parrots and bitterns are among a litany of vulnerable and endangered species that have been observed on the station - Eastern curlews, curlew sandpipers, southern bell frogs, southern pygmy perch, Murray hardyhead and the eastern long-necked turtle to name a few.
"We are fortunate to live in a nature-rich environment that is home to a number of endangered species as well as many native species," Sally said.
"We feel a responsibility to collect crucial data about the many species on our station so that we can ensure the biodiversity is recorded, monitored and protected.
"Important data is archived regarding species, patterns of occurrence, breeding and measuring population.
"Our data is used by government and non-government agencies for various applications and our environmental pursuits ensure a valuable historical record."
The Grundys fenced off the saltwater side of their islands close to a decade ago to keep livestock away from the water's edge and subsequently planted 140,000 shrubs, trees and grasses with help from the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth Vegetation Program.
The family also lease a property on Hindmarsh Island from the Department of Environment and Water, with a view to making both environmental and production gains.
"The arrangement has been beneficial as we manage the property and provide environmental gains, while we take our cattle out of our wetlands during the winter months and graze them on the high ground on Hindmarsh Island.
"The government doesn't need to employ someone to manage the property as we are the caretakers."
It is a grey, drizzly Sunday morning as we cross the Mundoo Barrage to Mundoo Island Station.
The bustling township of Goolwa and increasingly developed Hindmarsh Island, though so close, are but a distant memory when surveying the fresh River Murray water to the left and salt water of the Coorong to the right.
"It's like another world once you cross that barrage," Sally says.
The Grundys are weaning calves, having mustered the cattle herd from the swamplands of the Islands in preparation for the weaners' move to Hindmarsh Island, and the pregnancy testing the cows to start the annual process again.
With a glint in his eye, Colin reminisces about some of the swamp-loving Mickey bulls of years gone by that would not partake in this annual ritual.
In side-by-sides, the Grundys then move a herd of stock horses.
Not bothered by the possibility of becoming Our Stories pin-ups, the majestic free-spirited mob take flight, manes flowing and hooves thundering.
Only experienced horsemen and women need inquire, says Sally.
The flock of Dorpers and Dorper/Australian White lambs move at a more leisurely pace as they're directed away from a paddock of recently-sown barley which is showing the first signs of germination.
Seeing the old barrage, cattle yards infused with paddle steamer parts, the original homestead, dormant shearing shed and boats of years yonder, the mind can't help paint a living picture of the days when sheep were swum across the river, when steam paddlers docked to pick up wool bales destined for London, when hovercrafts and boats sped up and down the station's waterways at full noise.
While it is easy to get swept up in the nostalgia of 100 years of island farming history, it is also easy to start pondering what the future holds.
What changes to Island farming will advancing technology bring? In which direction will a change in leadership steer the station? What opportunities and challenges lay in wait?
It may be a while before those questions are answered so now is the time to put down the pen and leave the Grundys to write Mundoo's next chapter.
For more in-depth farming families stories, view Stock Journal's Our Stories feature here.
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